I have quite a soft spot for horror. There's just something about being reduced into a gibbering, shrieking mess, nerves frayed like the nails of a ten year meth addict, too scared to go on, too fascinated not to. Despite having submitted myself to a fair share of scares, I never really hardened along the way, still getting scared shitless at the simplest things. And I love it.
Recent years haven't been kind to the genre. Where the major horror productions in games last gen were titles like Silent Hill 2 and Fatal Frame, this generation has titles such as Dead Space and F.E.A.R. as its genre defining titles. How sad is that, huh? And don't you dare mention the newer Silent Hill titles. I will kill your dog.
Even if the industry's top studios can't seem to get horror right, though, there is hope for fans of fear. Everyone and their mother should know about Amnesia at this point, but there are plenty of other opportunities if you want to shit your pants. Case in point - Dark Falls: Lost Souls.
Dark Falls: Lost Souls is a first-person point'n'click adventure game by British developer Darkling Room. The third in a series, it returns to the train station of Dowerton, the location also used for the first game in the series(which, incidentally, was the first horror game I ever played). Lost Souls puts you in the role of the Inspector, a detective still troubled by his failure in solving a missing child's case, as he searches the long abandoned station.
Say, this place isn't so bad
This is no place for roaring assault rifles, booming shotguns, or impressibly durable steel pipes. Dowerton train station is a malevolent place, haunted by the dark itself, but the Inspector is defenseless against the supernatural forces nesting in the place. There is no such thing as "combat". The few times the Inspector is faced with a potentially deadly threat, the only way to live is either fleeing or solving a puzzle within a timelimit. The deadly encounters are few, though, but those that are work very well. If you want to spoil yourself of potentially the best moments(if you plan on playing, don't), check out this clip. It has a german guy doing what germans do best: ruining the atmosphere, but you should be able to see why I was screaming like a little girl.
One thing Lost Souls do very, very well, is atmosphere. The outside of Dowerton Train Station is dead quiet, the only noise penetrating the silence being the Inspector shivering from cold, as foggy breath rises in front of the screen. The outsides are lonely, dark, and you half expect a ghost to be around the next corner. The insides, however, provide no relief. If the outside is cold and inhospitable, the interior is hell. Lost Souls have some pretty gruesome imagery, and I am fairly certain someone on the dev team had a sexual attraction to scissors. Which is some coincidence, since I have a minor phobia of them.
In Dowerton, kitchen drawers are considered passé
The interior is pretty varied, sometimes looking the part of abandoned station, sometimes looking the part of hovel for squatters, and sometimes looking the part of Pinheads summer residence. Whatever particular visual look this or that room is going for, it works incredibly well, and is a huge contributor as to why this game is so damn scary. A lot of the time, you won't see a whole lot, light being pretty sparse in the closed down train station, a simple but important element that so many AAA-horror titles seems to have forgotten.
If the visuals are the game's high point, the voice acting is it's lowest. Lost Souls being about one man in an abandoned building doesn't have a whole lot of dialogue, but the little it does have is really, really bad. Or, well, unintentionally hilarious. The Inspector sounds like he is constantly in the middle of taking a dump, and having a hard time at it, and his lines are delivered with all the emotion of a wet sock. The rest of the soundscape, however, is beautiful and really helps drive those needles of fear deeper into your poor mind.
No. Fuck you ghost. Alt+F4.
The puzzles are a mixed affair. On one hand, a lot of them will disappoint die-hard adventure fans, on the other they will confuse and bewilder those less adept in the genre. While individual tasks to be solved are quite fun, and not so frustrating that they brake the pace of the game(thus taking the player "out of the horror"), it is easy to get lost in the train station, unable to figure out what the hell the game wants you to do next. One particular puzzle involving lighting a signal light, had me completely stumped, so much that I gave up and closed the game for the day. When I finally found the one clue I was missing, I didn't feel a sense of achievement, just that my time had been wasted.
The controls are fairly simple, but they get the job done. Clicks on either side of the screen, or top or bottom, redirects the Inspectors field of vision. It can feel static and limiting at times, but it is actually quite helpful when searching for clues.
I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn't follow this gentleman's advice.
The story is... Well, it starts strong. As the Inspector finds more and more clues, all the while being haunted by the victim, it is hard not to get drawn in. Newspaper clippings, strange text messages, and conversations with ghosts of bygone eras all paint a pretty intriguing picture, filled with mystery, as we learn more of the one case that the Inspector can't seem to let go. A shame then, that the final plot twist can be seen miles away, and you spend the latter half of the game kinda indifferent towards all the not so subtle hints they throw at you. But it's still a neat little story, and the goings on at the abandoned train station are eerie as hell. Not exactly Ernest Hemmingway, but hey, it's not supposed to be.
In the summer months the junkies nest, preparing for the hatching of their young.
Dark Falls: Lost Souls is a great little gem of horror game. The atmosphere will keep you on the edge of your seat, nervously clicking your way through thoroughly disturbing surroundings, with the occasionally very well done jump scare and an array of challenging puzzles. The creators understand that horror is not facing a twelve foot monster with a chainsaw. If you want to scare a person, you go for his brain, not his health bar, and while yelling boo is all good and well, true fear is when you don't have to yell anything at all. This is what horror is about, this is what it means to be scared, and while the game certainly has it's flaws, they seem insignificant next to what the game does well.
I recommend the game if you like horror, and have the patience that adventure games requires. If that's not your cup of tea, then you should look elsewhere. If you are new to adventure games, then hey, it's far from the hardest game in the genre, although some parts will infuriate you with illogical solutions and lack of direction. I liked it a lot, and you might too.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls is 18,99 € on Steam.